Product photography is one of those jobs where you can feel like a pro without breaking your budget. Good lighting and a new flash, as with any other camera equipment, will go far in improving quality but top-of-the line lights cost thousands of dollars. So what should beginners start out with to get their foot into this world?
There are plenty on the market that won’t break the bank while still giving you an opportunity to take great photos – some even under $500!
Here are 5 of the best flashes for beginner product photographers:
- Neewer i6T 600W Studio Strobe Flash Monolight
- GODOX DP800III 800Ws Professional Studio Flash
- Nissin MF18 Macro Ring Flash
- Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT
- Phottix Juno Li60 Flash x 2 + Odin II Transmitter Combo (PH80320)
If you want to improve your product photos and increase your sales, this article will help you accomplish your goal. While you can find less (and more) expensive lights, the flashes on our list provide you with sophisticated photo lighting tools for a modest investment of under $500.
Do I Need a Flash For Product Photography?
If you are a seasoned product photographer, then you probably already know what flashes bring into the game. Using a flash for product photography allows us to get consistent product images with much more control than what we could achieve by using natural/continuous lighting alone.
• Consistent Color. While you technically don’t need to use a flash to get amazing product images, natural light can change from moment to moment which can change your colors in the final image. Not good when you need to deliver accuracy!
• Action Shots. If you’re trying to get some action shots of some splashes, for example, you’ll be hard pressed to achieve crisp images with natural light unless you use a very fast shutter speed that can make other areas of your image too dark.
• High Quality. Using a flash to shoot your product images will allow you to have much higher quality images with less noise and better color reproduction.
For many product photographers, time is money. We want to get the best shots possible as fast as we can. A few minutes spent setting up their lights ensures they know exactly how their photo will look without dozens of photos taken adjusting for glare, unflattering shadows, or obscured details.
The point is, flashes bring consistency, control, and power to what can otherwise be an unpredictable situation.
Types of Flashes Product Photographers Use
Your built-in camera flash shoots light directly at your subject. Such light is neither especially bright nor flattering. You can take good pictures with your camera or even your phone, but you’ll also take many bad photos. And the best shots you can take with your built-in flash would be improved further by better lighting.
Product photographers use a variety of flashes to get what they need. Here are some of the most popular types:
- Strobes – This type of flash is what we typically refer to when speaking about flashes. With strobe lighting, a modeling lamp is used to give you an idea of what the lighting will look like and the color temperature is consistent. This style of flash is typically much more powerful, and what most people associate with professional photography lights.
- Speedlites – Smaller than strobes, these flashes are what a lot of beginner photographers use. They are portable and can be used as studio lights on tripods. These small flash units are battery powered and not as powerful as strobes, but can often be used with splash photography due to the short flash duration at low power.
Product photographers need flashes that produce accurate photos. A University of Idaho study found that over 55% of customers would not repeat business with a store that sent them an item whose color differed significantly from the shop image. Lights that are too warm or too cool can cause problems post-production can’t fix and cost you product returns.
Here are some flashes that might suit your purposes and become a valuable part of your product photography studio.
Neewer i6T 600W Studio Strobe Flash Monolight
The Neewer i6T EX 600W Studio Strobe Flash Monolight from Amazon.com gives you a full 600-watt flash even at 1/8000 second duration! With high-speed sync (HSS) and through-the-lens monitoring (TTL) functions, the Neewer i6t will take your product photography with Nikon, Canon, and Sony cameras to a new level.
While the Neewer i6T offers many professional features at a mid-range price, they offer little in the way of customer support, and any repairs involve shipping fees both ways from China. If anything goes wrong, these are disposable units.
Neewer flashes have many capabilities found in lights costing several times more. But those expensive flashes are sturdier and offer better warranties and customer service. When you are working on a shoot, flash reliability and endurance are critical.
The i6t may be all you need for a home studio, as it has all the capabilities most professional photographers use. For location shooting or mission-critical assignments, you may find yourself at some point moving up to more expensive but better-supported flashes by higher-end brands like Profoto.
GODOX DP1000III 1000Ws Professional Studio Flash
The Godox DP1000III 1000 watt Professional Studio Flash from Amazon.com is a highly regarded strobe used by many intermediate and full-time product photographers.
Godox transmitters let you chain several Godox flashes together for different lighting effects. If you want to use multiple lighting sources, the DP1000III will serve as a superb primary flash or work as a background light.
The DP1000III doesn’t have the high-speed sync and TTL capabilities of the Neewer i6T. Its shortest flash duration is 1/2000 second against the i6T’s 1/8000 second, which wont lend itself well to splash photography. But it is well-reviewed and may be a better choice when you need a multi-light setup.
Godox makes radio transmitters that fit most major DSLR models. Slip the transmitter on your camera’s hot shoe, set up the light (or lights), and you’re ready to shoot. Godox offers much of the performance found in brands costing three to four times more.
Godox gives you a lot of performance and works on many different camera models. But Godox offers little in the way of customer support or repairs. You will get better customer service if you buy Godox equipment through Adorama, which resells Godox as their Flashpoint brand.
Nissin MF18 Macro Ring Flash
If you do many close-up shots of rings, coins, or other small items, the Nissin MF18 Macro Ring Flash from Amazon.com will make your life a lot easier. The macro ring’s round and diffused glow helps capture every detail of that tiny object you’re trying to photograph.
You can get a cheap ring flash for a lot less money. But those inexpensive flashes can’t sync with your camera for a 1/8000 sec shot. They don’t have modeling lights to help you place your camera and block out the picture.
Combine this flash with a good macro lens, and you will be producing crystal clear photos of jewelry, watches, and gemstones in no time.
Ring flashes are not only good for macro photography. The ring flash removes many harsh shadows and produces flattering portraits. Advertisements that include actual people convert considerably better than ads using stock images. The Nissin MF18 can make both your model and your product look good.
The Nissin MF18 is available for Nikon, Sony, and Canon cameras.
Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT
If you shoot with Canon, the Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT from Amazon.com is one of the best flashes you can buy. While front-facing camera flash lighting is less flattering and powerful than what dedicated studio lamps offer, the 600EX II-RT comes with several very useful capabilities.
The 600EX II-RT has many sophisticated wireless communication functions. You can synchronize up to 16 flash and camera units with the 600EX II-RT optical communications. Switch to 2.4 GHz wireless, and you can control five groups of flashes using a radio transmitter.
The 600EX II-RT is not nearly as bright as the Godox and Neewer strobes, but it is considerably more portable. Product photographers who do a lot of on-location shooting for clients can bring several Speedlites in a duffle bag.
The 600EX II-RT will synchronize with several older and less expensive Canon flashes. You can take a great underbody car shot at a client’s garage and, or shoot a dozen new menu items at their restaurant, then be home before your competitor finishes unloading his bigger lighting system.
Phottix Juno Li60 Flash x 2 + Odin II Transmitter Combo (PH80320)
The Phottix Juno Li60 Flash x 2 + Odin II Transmitter Combo from Amazon.com works with Canon, Nikon, or Sony cameras. The Odin II wireless transmitter allows you to control multiple flashes or cameras. This set will give you a complete package for dual-lighted product photos and even allow you to expand into more elaborate setups with lighting zones.
You can change the angle of the flashes to create different lighting moods. You can use gels for colored light effects and spot illumination. With a little practice, you will learn many new ways to light the same old products. And the Juno’s small size and weight mean you can shift lighting strategies without breaking your back moving heavy lights.
Learning photography with multiple flashes will train you to work with more complicated strobe and floodlight setups. If you are a beginner photographer and want to improve your skills, go with the Juno Lis. These flashes will help you take quality pictures and let you transition into more challenging projects.
Better lighting can go a long way towards improving your product photography and your product sales. For under $500, you can buy an excellent flash that will provide consistent illumination and great pictures, and which you can easily expand into a larger lighting setup.
Lighting can be complicated, and there is a definite learning curve attached to setting up strobes and multiple speedlights. You can produce excellent product photos with any of the lights listed here.
But first, you must master your new light’s functions through research, practice, and a fair bit of trial and error.
For more information on flashes and strobes, check out our article on Skyline FBA.